Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Book of Joe by Jonathan Tropper

I bought The Book of Joe by Jonathan Tropper to give to my son, Joe, because it amused me. I had no intention nor any real desire to read it. But then one night, stuck in the guest room with nothing to read, I grabbed the book from the shelf and began reading.
Joe Goffman, the narrator of the story, has written a best seller, a novel not so loosely based on his life. After experiencing publishing and even Hollywood success, his life has reached a cross-road. It's time for him to grow up, frankly, and his wake up call comes in the form of his father's hospitalization. Going home after seventeen years, Joe is forced to face his personal demons, the ire of his community, and try to make peace with himself. The first part includes some flashbacks that contextualize the conflict that Joe is feeling. The second part concludes the various random threads and ties them up in an entirely too neat bow. Well, too neat bow for my taste.
Take Elizabeth Berg, add a dash of sarcasm and self-righteous angst, and you get the tone of The Book of Joe. Frankly, I never liked the protagonist, although I found his voice interesting enough not to give up on reading the book altogether. What kept me reading is that, while I didn't like Joe Goffman, I cared about the people who surrounded him. Ultimately, this is a coming-0f-age novel about an overgrown adolescent who, in his thirties, finally realizes that it is time for him to "man up." Not entirely unamusing. And not incredibly disappointing. But maybe I just don't get it or I might have liked it more. I did chuckle a few times. That's better than nothing.

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